Why Google plans to stop sup­port­ing your Chrome­book af­ter five years

Google’s End of Life Pol­icy sets a sched­ule for re­tir­ing older Chrome­books, writes Jared New­man

PC Advisor - - NEWS: ANALYSIS -

One of the best things about Chrome­books is that they are built to last. Thanks to au­to­matic se­cu­rity and fea­ture up­dates from Google, along with a light­weight browser-based op­er­at­ing sys­tem, long­time users may find that their lap­tops run as well, if not bet­ter, than they did on day one.

But de­spite Chrome­books’ the­o­ret­i­cal longevity, it’s pos­si­ble for Google to cut their lives short. Per the com­pany’s End of Life pol­icy, Chrome­books and other Chrome OS de­vices are en­ti­tled to five years of fea­ture and se­cu­rity up­dates only. Af­ter this, the firm doesn’t guar­an­tee that these sys­tems will run safely or prop­erly.

Ob­so­les­cence seems nigh for the first wave of browser-based lap­tops, in­clud­ing Sam­sung’s Se­ries 5 and Acer’s AC700, which ar­rived in 2011. Still, the pol­icy isn’t as cut and dry as Google’s end of life chart makes it seem (see tinyurl.com/z2b9xr2). The firm has left it­self some room to keep up­dat­ing Chrome­books in the fu­ture, and is con­tin­u­ing to up­date those that have of­fi­cially lost sup­port.

End of Life pol­icy

Ac­cord­ing to Google, each Chrome­book will re­ceive up­dates for at least five years af­ter the prod­uct’s orig­i­nal re­lease date (not to be con­fused with the time of pur­chase). Ev­ery six weeks dur­ing that time, the firm pro­vides au­to­matic se­cu­rity and fea­ture up­dates.

Be­yond that time, though, things get murky. Right now, three Chrome­books – Sam­sung’s Se­ries 5, Acer’s AC700 and Google’s CR-48 pro­to­type from 2010 – have re­ceived an ‘of­fi­cial’ end-of-life date. How­ever, only de­vices with of­fi­cial end-of-life dates are li­able to stop re­ceiv­ing up­dates.

Not that it mat­ters at the mo­ment. A Google spokesper­son told our sis­ter ti­tle PCWorld that this date is not a firm cut­off, and that all Chrome OS de­vices are con­tin­u­ing to re­ceive up­dates.

It’s un­clear when this will change, but users should get a no­ti­fi­ca­tion on their Chrome­books once the up­dates stop. At that point, de­vices may con­tinue to func­tion, but they could be­come less re­li­able over time. More im­por­tantly, they won’t re­ceive any more se­cu­rity up­dates, po­ten­tially leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to un­patched ex­ploits.

Ac­cord­ing to the spokesper­son, Google rec­om­mends dump­ing your old Chrome­book and get­ting a new one at that point.

There is, how­ever, one more el­e­ment to this story. Given that se­cu­rity is, ac­cord­ing to Google, “one of the key tenets of Chrome OS,” the firm said it’s “work­ing with our part­ners to up­date our poli­cies so that we’re able to ex­tend se­cu­rity patches and up­dates be­yond a de­vice’s EOL date.”

The com­pany isn’t mak­ing any guar­an­tees at this point, but it sounds like it wants to ex­tend up­dates – at least on the se­cu­rity side – be­yond five years. It also sounds like de­vice mak­ers such as Acer and Sam­sung would be par­tially re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing that hap­pen.

Why this mat­ters

Whether you’re up­set or sat­is­fied with Google’s Chrome­book sup­port pol­icy de­pends on your point of view.

Com­pared to a typ­i­cal PC, Chrome­books are de­signed to be more se­cure, thanks to ver­i­fied boot mech­a­nisms, built-in data en­cryp­tion and ‘sand­box­ing’ that con­tains threats within apps and web pages. Even in an un­patched state, Chrome­books are some­what safe. (They’re ar­guably a lot safer than An­droid de­vices, which rou­tinely go un­patched by de­vice mak­ers and are much big­ger tar­gets for mal­ware over­all.)

Still, Chrome OS ex­ploits do hap­pen, and Google it­self has noted that the “most ef­fec­tive way to pro­tect against mal­ware is to make sure all soft­ware is up to date and has the lat­est se­cu­rity fixes.” For peo­ple with older hard­ware, those up­dates may not be guar­an­teed.

Five years may seem like a long time, but Microsoft has typ­i­cally of­fered Win­dows se­cu­rity up­dates for at least 10 years af­ter an op­er­at­ing sys­tem’s re­lease. That’s a big deal given that more than 600 mil­lion PCs in use to­day are more than five years old. For en­ter­prises and schools with slow de­vice re­place­ment cy­cles, it’s es­sen­tial.

Ul­ti­mately, what re­ally mat­ters is that users (and IT man­agers) can make in­formed de­ci­sions, and that’s the big­gest is­sue here. Google didn’t pub­lish an end-of-life pol­icy for Chrome­books un­til late 2013, long af­ter it wooed users with the prom­ise of au­to­matic up­dates. And right now, the com­pany’s pol­icy page re­mains am­bigu­ous, so users can’t be sure what to ex­pect.

It’s worth not­ing that ‘end of life’ doesn’t have to mean the end of use­ful hard­ware. If you have the know-how, you can in­stall Linux on your Chrome­book to ex­tend its life­span. Oth­er­wise, users whose ma­chines are still in fine work­ing order just have to hope that the end of life no­ti­fi­ca­tion never comes.

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